Uncovering frosted tomatoes


The Worst?!

Every year, when I tell my longtime friend Vicki, “This year is the best garden year ever,” she smiles and rolls her eyes in a friendly way. But it’s true: Another year of gardening experience, better varieties to grow (Picnic Orange pepper of last year is now on my must-grow list); improved weed management (tarping added to my list); better pest control (the dreaded spotted wing drosophila on blueberries); etc.

Picnic orange pepper

Picnic orange pepper

This year, Vicki was surprised when I finished my annual sentence with “the worst year ever.”

She, of course, asked why. I spared her, but will not spare you, all the gruesome details, as far as I can determine. Read more

Cabbage, lettuce, & arugula early September



I don’t want to sound like a scolding parent, but have you been paying attention to your garden? Late summer weather may not inspire any more gardening activity than reaching — among the weeds, perhaps? — for a juicy tomato. But onward: There is work to be done!Cabbage, lettuce, & arugula early September

About those weeds. Wait! Don’t close your eyes and stop reading (like a reprimanded child) just because I mentioned weeds. Please hear me out.

Weeds, left now to their own devices, are going to become worse troublemakers later. Annual weeds like lamb’s-quarters and purslane are dropping their seeds, sowing them for next spring. You presumably killed all perennial weeds with this season’s enthusiastic beginnings, but the roots of young perennial weeds are trying to find a home. Autumn’s cool, moist weather is just what horse nettle, bindweed, yellow and creeping woodsorrel, and other perennial weeds need to become firmly entrenched in your garden. Read more

Me scything


“Ancient Japanese” Exercise(?)

Welcome to Springtown Farmden, the international health spa. Allow me to show you around for a tour of our exercise offerings. The techniques and equipment used come from all reaches of the world (or at least can sound like they do).

The first couple that can get your blood pumping “come from” across the Pacific, Japan. The first of these, sīth-ing (translation: scything), does require development of some technique and access our more specialized equipment, a sīth (translation: scythe).

The sīth has a single pole with two handles attached, one at the upper end and one about halfway down. The metal weight attached at the bottom of the sīth is a couple of feet long, curved, and sharpened on its inside edge. Muscle tone and strength is created by putting the left hand on the upper handle, the right hand on the lower handle, flexing the spine to the right and then unwinding yourself counterclockwise while trailing the metal weight just above ground level. (The best of these sīths come from Austria, but are available in the US here.)Me scything

Sīth-ing can be made more rigorous by passing the sharp metal through tall grass or meadow plants. The taller the plants, the denser the plants, and the older the plants, the more the resistance. Read more

Uncovering frosted tomatoes


Listen to Lee, Lee

You’d think I would have known better or, at least, listened to my own preaching. An increasing warming spell a week ago induced many fellow gardeners around here to set tomato and pepper transplants out in their gardens. The average date of the last killing freeze around here is May 21 — but temperatures were getting warmer and warmer, and what with global warming . . . I have preached not going with your gut when it comes to times for spring planting, but was swayed with the crowd and the warming weather, and planted out over 50 tomato plants and a dozen pepper plants a couple of weeks ago.

Then the weather turned cooler, with night-time lows predicted to sink into the low 30s. Here in the Wallkill River Valley, cold air, which is denser than warm air, flows downhill like water to collect in low spots. My farmden always experiences temperatures a few degrees colder than locally predicted.

No problem. I made some wire supports over which I draped a row cover which is said to retain heat, offering about six degrees more of frost protection. I went to bed that night at peace with our planet. Read more

Autumn olive fruit, ready to eat




Most Needed Food

A laundry list of things to pick up at the local garden center or hardware store this time of year likely includes fertilizer. It’s ironic that nitrogen is the fertilizer element generally needed most, yet the air contains about eighty percent nitrogen — 35,000 tons of it over every acre. The problem is like that of someone lost at sea; most plants can’t absorb nitrogen from the air.

A fortunate partnership has evolve between certain bacteria and plants that lets plants grab onto some of that airborne goodness.

Beans, Beans, They’re Good for Your . . . Garden

Most familiar among these partnerships is that of legumes and rhizobia bacteria. Legumes include garden plants like peas, beans,

Edamame, shelled

Edamame, shelled

and lupines, in addition to field plants like clover and vetch, and trees like honeylocust, black locust, and golden chain tree. In order to use atmospheric nitrogen, legumes must be infected with special strains of bacteria.

You can make sure your peas and beans are infected with the right bacteria by buying a legume inoculant when you buy your pea and bean seeds. This black powder (the bacteria comes mixed in dry peat) is applied either by shaking it with moistened seeds before sowing, or dusting it directly over seeds in the furrow. Read more

Moon light


Lunar Influences

For no apparent reason, my seedlings sometimes take longer than usual to poke up through the soil. Or one day’s transplants get off to a rousing start right after planting, while another day’s transplants sulk for a while before they grow. Fickle plants, or is the problem perhaps with the moon?

Some gardeners believe that the phases of the moon dictate the best times for gardening. No one has told me that my garden will be a flop if I ignore the moon, but paying attention to it as I go about my gardening activities will “take advantage of the impetus provided by nature” (as one moon-gardener has stated). Old-time gardeners used to say, “Plant potatoes by the dark of the moon.”Moon light

The Details

For some moon-gardeners, instructions are more refined, taking into consideration the sign of the zodiac along with the phase of the moon. Planting is not the only activity covered. Read more

Lifting lettuce seedling


A Pinch Every Now and Then

Deb is always impressed at the almost nonstop march of home grown lettuce that makes its way into our kitchen and then to salads and sandwiches each year. Not just a leaf here and there, or even the paltry amount in “side” salads served up in restaurants. No, I’m talking about day upon day lots of lettuce, often even whole heads — even here in zone 5.Four rows of lettuce in a bed

The key to this abundance is sowing seeds every couple of weeks or so. Not right out in the garden, but in seed flats; mine are four inches wide by six inches long and a couple of inches deep. After filling a flat with potting soil, onto the soil I press down a four by six inch board to which I’ve glued four dowels, each four inches long and Read more

My "fertilized" blueberries


The Choice is Yours

Plants occasionally need fertilizer and when they do, you can choose between using either an organic fertilizer or a synthetic (aka chemical) fertilizer. Organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources such as ground rocks, animal byproducts and manures, and plants or parts of plants. Synthetic fertilizers, in contrast, are factory made.

Composted garden beds

“Fertilized” beds in autumn

Most of the nutrition plants get from the ground is from nutrient ions (an atom or a group of atoms with an electric charge). For instance, calcium enters the root as Ca++; the two pluses are the result of the once neutral calcium atom losing two electrons. Whether a fertilizer is organic or synthetic, the form the plant eventually sees as food is an ion. People sometimes use this as a argument that it doesn’t matter to the plant whether its food source is organic or synthetic. But . . .  Read more

Golden Celebration rose


Plant Dreams

You’d think that after living in the same place for over 35 years and every year planting new trees and shrubs, that there would be nothing new for me to plant this year. Or, at least, no where to plant them. Well, t’ain’t so!

I’m now trying to wrap up getting anything I need in terms of plants or seeds for this growing season. Let’s see: Did I succumb to any of the enticements for new and wondrous plants mentioned online and in the slew of gardening magazines and nursery catalogues that appear almost daily in my mailbox?

Lady of Shallot rose

Lady of Shallot rose

David Austin roses, which have the pastel blooms and blowsy form of yesteryear’s roses, and the pest-resistance of present-year roses, are always a draw. But I have quite a few of them; do I have room for or need more of them? It’s cold here (or used to be), so I choose for beauty and hardiness, and, for an added attraction, fragrance. Among my favorites are Lady of Shallot, Dame Judy Dench, Golden Celebration, and LD Braithewaite. Read more

watering African Violet


Only for Gray-Haired Ladies?

I’m coming out. Today. Let me explain.

Decades ago, when just starting getting my hands in the dirt, I — perhaps other people, perhaps it was even true — thought it was only gray-haired ladies who grew African violets. As it turns out, a number of years after I had started gardening, I was offered an African violet plant (by a gray-haired lady). Back then, before I had accumulated too many plants, I was less discriminating than I am these days. I accepted.

I figured I could provide the special conditions African violets demand, according to what I read in numerous publications. “Proper watering and soil moisture is critical to your success,” I was told by one publication. I could provide the needed consistently moist soil with a potting mix especially rich in peat, compost, or some other organic material. I could monitor the plants thirst by lifting the pot to feel its weight or by periodic probing its soil with my electronic moisture meter. watering African VioletI could of course be careful to avoid leaf spotting by not spilling any water, especially cold water, on the leaves. Watering from below would do the trick, with periodic leaching from above to prevent buildup of salts. They also like high humidity.Pebble tray of African violets

Other requirements of African violets that were and are stated are temperatures 70-90 degrees (F) by day and 65-70  degrees at night. I was also admonished to keep an eye out for pests, including aphids, cyclamen mites, and mealybugs, and symptoms of disease. Root rot, for example.

Oh, and regular feeding should be administered except when resting (to the plants, not me).

Read more